"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
May 28, 2015
Greeting New People at Church
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

I work in Young Women, and I’ve noticed on many occasions that the girls do not greet or sit with girls who are new, visiting or sitting alone. Our Laurels in particular are old enough to notice and reach out when they see someone new, and it frustrates me that they don’t do it.

Do you have any ideas about teaching them to be more sensitive to the needs of others?

Answer:

Training young women to do all the things associated with adult membership in the Church is a main purpose of the Young Women program. Each class has a presidency, for example, to plan activities and identify and meet the needs of class members.

One responsibility of all adult members, no matter what calling they hold, is to notice and greet people who are new at church. It is the way regular church-goers show they are glad to welcome into the ward those people who are new, visiting or returning.

However, approaching a stranger and striking up a conversation is not a natural behavior for most people. It often requires deliberate effort to look around a room, identify the strangers, approach the strangers (all the while hoping you haven’t been introduced three times already), introduce oneself and begin a conversation that shows interest and caring without being nosy or overwhelming.

For many people, this takes practice and repetition.

I suggest, therefore, that you schedule an activity night on which you teach the young women what to do when they enter a church meeting and see someone new. The activity should have three parts: teaching, demonstration and practice.

You should start by explaining the importance of greeting people who are new, and of sitting with them and helping them feel welcome. Remind the young women how crummy it feels to sit alone and ignored in a room of happily chatting people.

Then, teach them how to welcome a new person. Give a prearranged demonstration with another adult or girl. After you have answered any questions, have the girls practice. Each girl should practice being the new girl and the welcoming girl.

Specifically, you might teach them to do four things.

One, look around. When you arrive at sacrament meeting, you probably look around to see if there is anyone there you do not know. You should teach the young women to do the same when they walk into Sunday school, seminary or Young Women.

As they scan the room, they should look for four things: (1) girls they do not recognize; (2) girls who are not usually at church; (3) girls who are sitting alone; and (4) the absence of girls who usually come but are missing today.

Two, approach the person they have noticed and sit down next to her. Sitting down will instantly make the new girl feel less alone and less awkward. Also, no one will be looming over her. Your young woman should smile and introduce herself to the new girl. For example, “Hello, I’m Cornelia Hackel. Are you visiting today?” Or, if she already knows the girl, say, “Hi, Irene. How are you?”

If the young woman has seen the girl before but cannot remember her name, she has two choices. She can ask someone discreetly before approaching the new girl, or she can sit down anyway and say, with an apologetic but expectant look, “Hi. I’m Cornelia Hackle. I know we’ve met before, and I’m sorry, but I can’t remember your name.” Practice both approaches with the girls.

Both girls in your demonstration should give their first and last names. Giving your first and last name is the correct way to introduce yourself, although only half the population seems to know it. If you can teach your young women this skill, they are sure to impress a future employer or in-law with it.

Three, engage in conversation. The chattier girls in your class may know how to start a conversation with a stranger. But some of them might need instruction on appropriate topics and tactics for putting others at ease.

Or, you may have girls who are shy or reserved who need to learn the skill of carrying on a conversation by asking questions (you might suggest some common ones), and especially the trick of saying, “What about you?” after answering a question.

Four, introduce the girl to other people she does not know. Making introductions is an underrated social skill. Teach the girls to call over a friend and say, “Karen, this is Minnie Vandergelder. She just moved here. Minnie, this is Karen Malloy. She goes to Yonkers High, too.” Karen will sit down with Minnie and Cornelia, and just like that, Minnie has two friends instead of one.

Finally, point out to your young women that these skills also apply to situations where they are the new girl. Whether or not anyone approaches them, they now know how to approach someone, introduce themselves and start a conversation.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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